The Excitement of the College Acceptance Letters
By Joe Messinger, CFP®
February 3, 2023
Updated February 2023.
Senior year is a whirlwind of activity. Students and their parents are anticipating the journey to college that’s right around the corner. Fall semester means that application season is in full swing. For many students, early action and early decision deadlines are from November 1 or December 1. Now that we’re firmly in the new semester, the next part of the process begins:
Analyzing acceptance letters and navigating the next steps.
Once You’ve Submitted Your Application
Most regular decision applications have a deadline of early January. Now, the waiting begins. The majority of high school seniors who applied for regular decision should hear back with college acceptance letters and financial aid information anytime between now (early February) through March. May 1st is often known as “college decision day” as it’s when most colleges and universities require a student to commit to attending and pay any deposits or fees they owe.
Until then, the only “next step” you and your student can take is to wait!
You may think this is anticlimactic, but it’s important to wait until you have all of the information you need from everywhere you applied before making decisions about where to attend.
In Your Acceptance Letters
You may have some merit scholarship award information in your college acceptance letters. Some colleges have specific guidelines they adhere to for automatic merit awards. It is in their best interest to get that information to you quickly. Small private colleges, in particular, can give you that information quickly. More popular, or larger schools, lag behind because of the volume of applications they’re wading through.
We’re talking about schools that have automatic merit scholarships and/or provide a tuition discount to nearly every applicant. Colleges that award scholarships on a more competitive basis will take longer to make their decisions.
Remember, these initial figures are just that — initial figures.
You need to wait until you receive the full financial aid award letter to get a complete picture of what you’re expected to pay, and what financial aid is being offered to your student. Because financial aid is impacted by state budgets, most financial aid letters cannot be sent out until after the budget is resolved. In most states, budgets are finalized sometime in January. Colleges may not know what money they can award until February, and sometimes, not until March or April.
What Can You Do While You Wait?
If you have been awarded a merit scholarship, be sure you understand when you need to accept the offer to “reserve” your scholarship. You should also inquire whether it is a renewable scholarship or just for the student’s freshman year. Other questions to ask might include:
- What are the minimum GPA requirements to keep the scholarship?
- Is there a probation period if your student’s GPA dips?
- Will the scholarship cover all four years of attendance? Can it be renewed for a fifth year?
- Does your student need to remain enrolled in enough credit hours to be considered full-time? Or does the scholarship apply if they are part-time?
You can also start to research the cost of living comfortably in the different areas your student has applied to or been accepted to. For example, a merit scholarship to a college in Boston might not make a big enough dent in tuition when you factor in the higher cost of living and travel expenses to get them home during the holidays.
You’ll have all the information you need to make an educated decision soon, and all the puzzle pieces will fall in line. In the meantime, do your research, and be prepared to commit as soon as you have all of the necessary information. Schools will be putting on the full-court press to have you commit and get the best dorm room selections — even if they took their time getting you the financial aid information you needed to make a final decision.
Congratulations! Your student has worked so hard to reach this point. It is a moment to stop and celebrate! Remember to be patient until we have the official “financial aid award letter” in hand so we can fully understand our out-of-pocket costs to attend and how we will pay for all 4 years of education down to the penny, not just the first year.
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